True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why Do We Keep Secrets?

I feel that there are several reasons for this, some clear, for instance, tradition, and some not so clear. We all know that Tradition is held dear in Masonry. Our rituals are old, and hard to change, immutable (we say) and timeless. We do things in many ways, the same way we have done them since 1717, and likely much further back than that.

When we are initiated an Entered Apprentice, we swear never to write, indict, print, cut, carve, hack, hew, etch, letter or engrave… upon anything moveable of immoveable, whereby the secrets of Freemasonry may become unlawfully communicated. Then we are given four of those “secrets”, a grip, a word, a due guard and a sign. We are also told about those things.

Further secrets are communicated in the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degree, all of which are, on the surface, the secrets of a Mason. I will not take the time or space here to discuss if these are the secrets or not, and what other meanings they may have. These issues are not important to this discussion. More on that in another entry later.

Most Grand Masters have determined that these are the true secrets that must be kept per our obligations.

Here is the question though: Given that these “secrets” are published all over the internet, libraries, bookstores and so on, why do we continue to “keep them secret”? I think there are a number of reasons, which I will discuss below. If you have any comments, I would like to see your opinions on this as well.

The first reason I think we keep them secret is that we promise to do so. This seems simple, on its face, but in a world where every profane who wants to know the “secrets” can find them at the click of a mouse; we still keep them locked in the repository of the faithful breast. In this sense, we keep the modes of recognition "secret" because we have always kept them secret.

In a word, tradition.

The second reason is similar to the above, but on a somewhat deeper level. We share a bond between us, to aid and assist, to keep a brother’s secrets as our own, murder and treason excepted when given to us in charge as such. We are also enjoined to go on foot and out of our way for a brother if need be, to be ever willing to stretch forth a helping hand and so on, and to whisper good counsel in a brother’s ear.

If a brother cannot keep his word in so simple a manner as keeping the “secrets”, to never let slip the least sign, token or word when in strange and mixed company, how can the brother be trusted with trusts that are more important? If a brother cannot be trusted to keep his word in all times and in all things, how can he be trusted to be there for a brother in a time of need?

A third reason for keeping the secrets is temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. These seem obvious, but consider: a mature man holds his tongue where there is nothing of value to be spoken or communicated. That is a definition of prudence, to act in a manner that shows maturity.

A mature man tempers his speech, to reflect consideration, for himself, for others. A fool speaks when the wise venture not. Much of speech is space filler, filling the vacuum of silence and offering little of value to the mind or spirit. It takes fortitude, strength of character to consider carefully how your words will be received, to weigh the usefulness of communicating them against the value and impression they will leave once spoken.

Of course, this fortitude, prudence and temperance should be weighed with justice. Are the words being communicated just and upright before man and g-d. If the words have no value, then careful consideration must be given before uttering them. A mature, spiritual man communicates only what is good, valuable, and just, lest he, by his intemperate, imprudent words he injure himself, his friends, neighbors or Freemasonry.

Keeping the secrets is not just an exercise in not speaking that which is often well known, it is an exercise in learning to be temperate in our speech, prudential in our choices, and just in our actions, words and deeds. Keeping the secrets, like weightlifting to increase the physique, is an exercise in making us better men by exercising our spirits, by making us more contemplative and aware of our actions before we speak.

Why do we keep the secrets? Because we are learning to be better men, men that have honor, integrity and that walk uprightly before g-d and men. We hold our tongues and speak on the square because we are Masons.

g-d bless.


Peter Taylor said...

Yes well said! Keeping your word, is by far the most Masonic thing you could do. Doing that means everthing else falls into place.

I have used material like this before in short "exposés" at my Lodge! There was no 0ne who disagreed!

giovanni lombardo said...

You pointed at temperance. Yes indeed. At psychological level, to keep secrets strengthens one's character.

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